‘God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean’

In comments a few days back, I see there was a question regarding whether I believe “that homosexuality is objectively immoral.”

It’s my fault if I haven’t been as clear as I need to be on that point: No. I do not believe that homosexuality is objectively immoral.

But that’s not strong enough. It’s more than that: I believe that denying LGBT people full legal equality is objectively immoral. I believe that excluding LGBT people from full inclusion, full participation and full equality in the church is objectively immoral — and objectively unbiblical.

Such civil discrimination and religious exclusion violates core principles of biblical Christianity — principles as pervasive and essential as the Golden Rule.

More specifically, I would point to Acts 10:1 – Acts 11:18 as a compelling argument that followers of Christ must not “call anyone profane or unclean.” This story teaches us that appealing to biblical law in order to declare another person or group of people as “profane or unclean” is not legitimate, even if we think we can make a strong case for interpreting the law in this way. The biblical laws regarding circumcision were not ambiguous or optional, yet such clear commandments regarding Other People’s Genitals were not to be allowed to exclude the uncircumcised from being baptized.

Let me be clear on that point: God commanded Peter to disregard those laws, commanded him not to allow those laws to exclude others. Peter wasn’t told that he now had the option of welcoming those who had been excluded. Peter wasn’t told he might maybe kind of sort of “tolerate” these people as second-class members of the community, “as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed” the gift of the Holy Spirit.

No, Peter was told that he must welcome them, fully and openly as equals. “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Anything short of full acceptance would itself constitute disobeying a command from God.

I’ve been preaching this sermon from Peter’s vision in the book of Acts for many years now (for a few examples, see: “The Abominable Shellfish: Why some Christians hate gays but love bacon,” “Slavery, seafood, sexuality and the Southern Bible” and “Selfish Gentiles and ‘Shellfish Objections’“). I think it’s important. I think it’s very important, because right now, throughout most of the American church, across almost all denominations, we Christians are calling profane those whom God has made clean.

And I believe that is objectively immoral.

“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” Peter asks. LGBT Christians have received the Holy Spirit just as we have. To withhold the water for baptizing them, to call them profane or unclean, is wrong — it is disobedient, unloving, hurtful, harmful, unbiblical. It’s a sin.

It’s particularly astonishing that the very same American Christians now excluding LGBT Christians from full inclusion and full participation in the church are, overwhelmingly, Gentiles. We Gentile Christians would, ourselves, be excluded if it were not for that lesson Peter learned in Acts 10:1-11:18. Freely you have received, freely give. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.

I’m very pleased to see an increasing use of this passage as the case for full equality — in the church and under the law — gains momentum. (“Who am I to Think That I Could Stand in God’s Way?” Mal Green asks in arguing for marriage equality in New Zealand.) I expect that this will produce some backlash — likely an attempt to reinterpret Peter’s vision to mean something other than what Peter himself said it meant (as both Al Mohler and Timothy Dalrymple have done recently).

There will always be a Jonah Faction in Christianity — a group that shakes its fists at God for “abounding in steadfast love” toward even the Ninevites whom that faction despises. They seem driven by the fear that if God’s love and mercy are extended even to include the Ninevites, then there will be less of them left over for us. From the perspective of the Jonah Faction, salvation is a zero-sum game.

Peter’s vision is a rebuke to Team Jonah, so that faction will eventually have to come up with a way of explaining away its expansive, explosive message. They will try to say, somehow, that this passage from Acts is only about Cornelius, or only about dietary law. They’ll dissect this passage with a lawyerly eye, studying the finger while refusing to look where it is pointing.

I’m sure they’ll find a lot to say about the finger, but it will all be beside the point.

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  • ASeriesOfWords

    I am both proud and appalled by that pun at the end.

  • Fred nails it again.   Sir, stuff like this is why I keep reading your blog.  

  • Indeed. I really appreciate posts like this.

  • Jurgan

    What I would like is a response to the “love the sinner, hate the sin” argument.  Because that’s always the rebuttal I get when I use this line of reasoning- I’m told that we should accept them as people, but still expect them to repent and cease sinning.  My response is that their sexuality is key to their identities and cannot simply be separated, but I don’t have so specific a scripture to cite.

  • I think Fred would reply that Cornelius was not asked to repent of being a gentile, or even of being a Centurion in the Roman army.

  • markedward

    I’m not being contrary for the sake of being resentful or hateful; this is a sincere thought I want to bring to the discussion. If I’m following Fred correctly, the gist is this: the Law opposed this or that, but in Acts 10-11 Peter learned that God overturned the Law, thus this or that is no longer opposed. While I do see how Acts 10-11 CAN be applied beyond the scope of ethnic identity (the brunt of Acts 10-28) over to sexual identity, I honestly don’t know if that is how it SHOULD be applied.

    When the main ethical teachings come from a bunch of Israelites (i.e. the NT speakers/writers), and they roundly oppose ‘sexual immorality’, what else would they be referring to except for what the Law defined as being ‘sexually immoral’? When, for example, Paul says something like ‘abstain from sexual immorality’, but doesn’t specifically clarify what that consists of, this implies that his original readers (the Thessalonians) would have understood what he meant, and there’s only one place I can think of for where they got their understanding from.

    So, this is an open, genuine question (not a rhetorical one), and I’m hoping Fred can respond as well: My whole question is this. While in one spot the NT says ‘Hey, food offered to idols is just food, it’s a matter of conscience’, or in another spot it says ‘Circumcision is not necessary, you are saved by faith, not Torah’, Jesus and the disciples still consistently speak against ‘sexual immorality’… what is it they opposed, if not the things the Law defined as ‘sexually immoral’? It is because of this that I am having trouble reconciling the wider application of Acts 10-11 with the NT concept of what constitutes ‘sexual immorality’.

  • Turcano

    That one’s easy.  “Love the sinner, hate the sin” usually translates in real life to “I’m going to say or do something hateful, but I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t take it personally.”

  • Paul says something like ‘abstain from sexual immorality’,

    In a modern context it would probably mean “don’t do things with other people without their consent”.

  • Always nice to hear. Thanks.

    “O thin men of Haddam,
    Why do you imagine golden birds?
    Do you not see how the blackbird
    Walks around the feet
    Of the women about you?”

  • Emcee, cubed

    While I do see how Acts 10-11 CAN be applied beyond the scope of ethnic
    identity (the brunt of Acts 10-28)

    Except ethnic identity is not, in fact, the brunt of Acts 10-28. It is simply the specific instance used to apply the general rule.

    but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.

    This is what Peter says. He does not say, “God has shown me that Gentiles are not profane or unclean.” He does not say, “God has shown me that Gentiles who are unclean are welcome as long as they are willing to not be Gentiles any longer.” The rule is “I should not call anyone profane or unclean.” He then applies that to the Gentiles. He could have, and would have, applied it to anyone, because that is what God showed him. “I should not call ANYONE profane or unclean.”

    Also, I won’t claim to know the NT word for word, but where exactly does Jesus condemn “sexual immorality”? As far as I can remember, Jesus spoke very little about sex, ever.

  • stly92

    Well, the argument I usually hear is a “I see your Acts 10:1-11 -11:18 and raise you Romans 1:24-27.” Then you might start talking about things like cultural context, and the contrast in our understanding of human sexuality between Paul’s time and ours. Then they got you. “Aha, NOW who’s reading the scripture with a  lawyerly eye, now who’s trying to get the Bible to not say something it seems to be clearly saying!”

    And, as Fred would say, they would be High Fivin’ and doing their touchdown dance right about now. So they probably won’t here you when you start making the point, that they are still ignoring one verse in favor of another. And, if these two passages seem to be at odds, doesn’t that mean this issue is more complex than just an appeal to what “The Bible Says?” And if that’s so, isn’t it worthy of actual discussion, instead of trying to shut the discussion down?

    The other key argument is the fruit argument, which Mathew Vine put forth. That any Christian Doctrine has to be judged on the fruit it produces. And the fruit of the church being antigay is very bad. Mathew agrees, but is too polite to say what that bad fruit is. Well I’m going to say it. Bullying teens into suicide, beating up gay people who want to come to church. That’s stuff that’s happened, not hypothetical worst case scenarios. Or it’s pastors who say they merely want all gay people sent to Arkham City. Yeah. I think the real bottom line is that being antigay is making the church antichristian. That should make Christians pause and really look at it. But it doesn’t. As Fred said, it’s not about a message any more, it’s just about the line in the sand.

  • Erp

    I’m not a Christian, but I think the usual response is what are the fruits?   A mutually loving couple who happen to be the same sex can produce marvelous fruit (look for Martin Gill or for Steve Lofton and Roger Croteau).    I believe there is a certain verse about bad trees and good fruit.  Sexual behavior that damages such as cheating, lack of honesty,  lack of consent, physical or psychological abuse, that is immoral and it doesn’t depend on which sex those involved are.

    Note that first century Christians would probably not approve of same-sex relationships but then first century Christians had little problem with slavery either.    Times change. Some Christians might also quote John 16:12-15
    12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

    as expressing a progressing theology, that the guiding into all truth is taking centuries because people weren’t/aren’t ready.  Hence it wasn’t until some time after the death of Jesus that Gentiles were admitted as equals. Hence it wasn’t until the 18th century that slavery really began to be seen as wrong by any large group, or the 19th/20th century that women were equal to men.  Or that the death penalty was wrong. 

  • Lori

    “Love the sinner, hate the sin” usually translates in real life to “I’m going to say or do something hateful, but I’d really appreciate it if
    you didn’t take it personally.”  

    IME it’s more like “I’m going to say or do something hateful, but you’re not allowed to call me on it. Because calling someone a hater is way worse than being a hater.”

  • Ursula L

    While in one spot the NT says ‘Hey, food offered to idols is just food, it’s a matter of conscience’, or in another spot it says ‘Circumcision is not necessary, you are saved by faith, not Torah’, Jesus and the disciples still consistently speak against ‘sexual immorality’… what is it they opposed, if not the things the Law defined as ‘sexually immoral’?  

    One thing worth paying attention to is the general pattern of moral philosophy that you see playing out in the early Christian church as reflected in the portion of the historical record of that institution that wound up in the Bible.  

    They were struggling to work through a very complex moral problem.  There were two things that they knew.  First, they wanted to be moral people.  But second, the laws from the Torah and the surrounding traditions, that were supposed to guide them towards moral behavior, and also the religions and traditions of other cultures, didn’t seem to teach behavior that they considered to be actually moral. 

    And a lot of the writings that wound up in the Bible were not arguments about general morality, but rather addressing specific moral problems.  A church would have a problem they couldn’t agree on, and write to Paul about it.  He’d try to figure out what was right in their situation, and write back to them with advice for their particular problem.

    And then, two thousand years later, people are looking at a few fragments of an ongoing and much larger correspondence, and are trying to use it to sort out the general principles that led to the specific advice being given for a specific problem.  When we don’t even have access to the letter explaining the problem which the letter that we’re reading is a response to.  

    We see that, whenever specific Old Testament laws are referenced in the New Testament, they’re looked at critically, as people try to get a better understanding of what is moral.  So when we see them writing about “sexual morality” then they were probably thinking about it in the same way they were thinking about every other moral issue – seeing problems in the rules they were taught, and trying to sort out what is actually moral.    

  • Matri

    Basically, it’s one of those “I’m not a racist, but…” arguments.

  • Matri

    Also, I won’t claim to know the NT word for word, but where exactly does
    Jesus condemn “sexual immorality”? As far as I can remember, Jesus
    spoke very little about sex, ever.

    That would be the Book Of Rush Limbaugh, 1st Edition.

    Naturally, only Real True Christians can see it. Us heathens will just have to take their word for it.

  • Katie

     I  think that you could make a case that ‘consent’ is the guiding principal for Paul as well.  In the 1st century, the most common expression of homosexual desire was a relationship between an older man and a teenage boy.   This kind of asymmetry in status would make ‘consent’ a very problematic proposition.  Of course, one could say that same thing about the position of a teenaged bride who married an older man, but she would, at least in theory, have some social and legal protections, which a boy-lover would not.

    A similar thing could be said, given the economic and legal disparity between men and women, between any kind of non-marital sexual liaison.  There would always be the possibility of coercion, and of the weaker party being hurt and abused.  And it would certainly apply to prostitution,  especially since in the First Century, many prostitutes were slaves, or in the case of cultic prostitution, dedicated to the temple by their parents or guardians. 

    Leaving aside the differences in modern and first century understandings of human sexuality,  it seems to me that Paul was willing to tolerate sex inside of a heterosexual marriage because, in his world, it was the one kind of widely recognized relationship that did not, by its very nature, involve the sexual exploitation of a status inferior.  It had the capacity to be reformed into a union of mutual care and respect, between two people who were of equal value and status.

  • markedward

    You’re right, Jesus spoke very little about sex at all; only three brief comments that I remember. Twice in his criticism of how divorce was practiced (Matthew 5.32; 19.9), and once in a listing of ‘defiling’ behaviors (Matthew 15.19).

  • Mary Kaye

    I would like to respond to “hate the sin but love the sinner” with “In that case, I challenge you to put as much effort, energy, and resources into showing love as you’re currently putting into showing hate.”  But I fear I’d just get a facile “I’m showing my love by rebuking the sin” followed by some (in my view wrongheaded) analogies with a parent lovingly disciplining their child.

    The kind of love that manifests *only* in rebuke strikes me as not love at all.  But I don’t think I can make that argument to someone who doesn’t already have an inkling of it.

  • Ursula L

    A similar thing could be said, given the economic and legal disparity between men and women, between any kind of non-marital sexual liaison.   

    Actually, under the circumstances of the first century AD, I’d include marital sexual liaisons and interactions as being problematic.  

    Marriages were often arranged.  Marriage involved considerable financial investment and consideration which created a conflict of interest for any father negotiating a marriage for a daughter when he has a financial stake in the matter, but is not the person who is being married or being expected to have sex with the person that arrangements are being made for them to be married to.   There was often a significant age difference within marriage, with the husband being much older than the wife.  There was always a significant power difference between husband and wife, with legal and social  power on the side of the husband.  

    There was a huge double standard regarding sexual behavior.  

    Men were permitted to have sex more-or-less as they chose, provided it did not interfere with another man’s right to sexual control of a particular woman (a father controlling his daughter, a husband controlling his wife, a slave-owner controlling a slave.)  

    Women were expected both to comply with sexual demands from the man who had legal and social control of them (daughters remaining virgins until married to the man of their father’s choice, wives having no sexual partner except their husband, slaves having sex at the command of their owner, either with their owner or with other men as directed by their owner – entertaining a guest of their owner, or working as prostitutes under the legal control of their owner.)  Women were also expected to refuse and reject any potential sexual encounter that wasn’t sanctioned by the man who legally controlled her.  Even a relationship with an unrelated man, unmarried and without any potential for harming any third-party, whom she liked or loved and very much wanted to share sex with.  

    You don’t have to go beyond the Ten Commandments, the most basic understanding of Old Testament law, to see the problem.  There is a command against adultery.  Even if there is 100% uncoerced and enthusiastic  consent, both between the people engaging in the sexual act and anyone they have made any sort of sexual commitment to, such as a spouse.  But there is no prohibition against rape.  

    Which makesany part of the Bible a suspect and unreliable source for guidance in sexual morality.  Even the wisest and most moral person in the world would find it nearly impossible to set out rules guiding moral sexual behavior, when living in a context and culture where there is no sexual morality in any sense that respects the fundamental principle of consent.  

  • I know we have all heard some Lady Gaga before, but this post in particular reminded me of this specific cover she did of one of her most popular songs.  

    It is the kind of thing you would expect to hear sung in a church after a sermon on this very subject.  

  • Jan

    ‘In a modern context it would probably mean “don’t do things with other people without their consent”. ‘
    No. To Christianity certain sexual acts are SINS. Do not whitewash that. Do not attempt to impose the ‘consent’-spiel. Even in the NT homosexuality is condemned in one go together with adultering, thieving, idolatry, etc.
    The way to go here is NOT that being gay is okay by the NT because it does misrepresent the text. The point is that it is not an exceptional bad or noteworhty sin.
    Somebody also claimed that homosexuality is core to somebodys identity. I doubt that and i think it is actually quite dangerous for any person to define themselves first and foremost by their sexuality instead of their personalities and morals.

  • EllieMurasaki

    No one defines themselves first and foremost by their sexuality–no one I’ve ever met or heard of, anyway–but it is an uncommon thing (something to be treasured and encouraged, of course, but not common) for a straight person to be propositioned by someone of the same sex and to take that in stride rather than having a negative reaction to being assumed to be queer. So it really oughtn’t to surprise you that we queer folk don’t tend to appreciate people assuming either that we’re straight or that our queerness is not an important part of us.

  • Do not attempt to impose the ‘consent’-spiel.

    SPIEL? SPIEL? How fucking DARE you!

    I’m actually too angry just now come up with something more coherent, but to be THAT dismissive of consent… I just… WOW. It’s not like consent is something that only applies to sexual morality, either. It’s the difference between a loan and theft, a boxing match and assault…

    “Spiel”. Really. Wow.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Ma’am, you do not speak for all christians everywhere. You cannot claim that your personal view of the scriptures is the exact right one, and that someone else who understands it a different way (or was given a different understanding by god) is wrong. Not only is it potentially shutting out you learning something, you’re shutting down that person’s voice in the conversation. And neither of those is okay; especially the second.

    Further, those verses you speak of that say homosexuality is wrong are highly questionable. Many scholars believe that the original text spoke of pedophilia, and that homosexuality being there now as either a translation error or a willful insertion by someone with an agenda. Not having the original letter in the original context is another reason you should attempt to refrain from screaming “No, this is the only right way!” 

    Lastly, there are people that choose to make their sexuality core to their identity. That’s okay, and really you have no right to be telling them it’s dangerous. Also, keep in mind that the Right (speaking from America here, this won’t apply to everyone) goes out of their way to target gays simply because they have the audacity to want the same rights as straights. When we’re constantly being attacked, lied about and threatened for being gay, it’s not *us* that’s making our sexuality a core part of us. It’s ya’ll. It’s you who won’t just leave us alone. 

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Hence it wasn’t until the 18th century that slavery really began to be seen as wrong by any large group, or the 19th/20th century that women were equal to men. Or that the death penalty was wrong.

    And we’ve still got a lot of hold-outs on that last one.

  • Fusina

     John 16:12-15
    12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.

    Thank you. Thank you thank you thank you. I probably still won’t try to talk my family down on the homosexuality subject, but I can keep this verse in my heart and armor myself against their religious nastiness. I am not gay, but I was an outcast. So I tend to band together with others of my kind, if you see what I mean.

  • fraser

     If it was really about the sin, then there wouldn’t be any issue with homosexuals joining the army: The right would just say “Well, they can join but only if they stay celibate.” Instead, merely being gay is considered a desirable reason to refuse them/ Even people who say “It’s a conscious choice!” do not consider homosexuals who want to acceptable–they have to actively choose to be straight.
    So I call bullshit.

  • fraser

    Really? I define myself quite strongly by my relationship with my wife. Not first and foremost but it is very much part of my identity. Before that, my identity as someone not in a relationship and wanting one was also important
    And I know many other people whose self-definition includes their sexuality: I’m staying virgin until marriage. I screw anything that moves. I’m bi. I’m straight. I’m gay. I’m asexual. I’m married. I’m looking. Not necessarily the core of their identity, but not something trivial either.

  • The Guest That Posts

    I’m a straight person. It’s darn easy for me not to define themselves by my sexuality, since I’m unlikely ever to take any flak for being heterosexual.

    In an ideal world, homosexual people wouldn’t have to define themselves by their sexuality any more than by, say, their being golf players or cinema fanatics. You’re not bringing that world any closer by that post.

  • friendly reader

    Just posted this somewhere else, seems appropriate to repost it here:

    “Sin, he* reflected, is not what it is usually thought to be; it is not
    to steal and tell lies. Sin is for one man to walk brutally over the
    life of another and to be quite oblivious to the wounds he has left
    behind.” – Shusaku Endo

    Note that Endo was a Christian writer, and that’s from his magnificent book Silence, one of my strongest recommendations for good Christian literature.

    *The “he” is a Catholic priest facing torture under Tokugawa persecution of Christians, contemplating his guards.

  • The_L1985

    Well, let’s see. Leviticus’s section on sexual immorality has a LOT more to say about incest than gay people. In fact, the infamous “Lie not with a man” section (hey, nice job leaving out lesbians!) isn’t even in the sex section–it’s in the “We need the new Israelite nation to be nice and distinct from the Canaanites, or we’re going to go extinct as a people pretty soon. So let’s not do these religious things the Canaanites do.”

    It’s very possible that the verse refers to the use of male temple prostitutes. Remember that ancient Hebrew society wouldn’t necessarily have had the same kinds of homosexual relationships around that we think of today. They didn’t even have a word for homosexual yet!

  • The_L1985

    But “whom I want to marry and spend my life with” IS a core part of your identity. I knew from a very early age that, although I liked to look at ladies in bathing suits, I wanted to marry and have/raise children with a MAN. I am (mostly) heterosexual, and this is how my sexual identity manifests. It colors large portions of my life–keeping old books and toys for my future children, dating men who seem like my “type,” etc.

    If I’d wanted to marry another woman, I’d be spending more time in lesbian bars (because only there could I be certain that the nice, pretty girl I met WAS a lesbian), studying laws and prices on adoption and IVF so I could have that child, and probably hiding this entire part of my LIFE from my homophobic parents, for my own protection, to the point that the hiding would make me quite neurotic. With my history of clinical depression, the hiding alone would easily be enough to drive me to suicide.

    Sexual attraction is about a lot more than just sex.

  • The_L1985

    Don’t you mean the last two?

  • LouisDoench

     See folks… this is why many of us join Team Atheist or Humanist,  because the very concept of sin is at best confusing and at worst deleterious to human health.  If you are judging any human activity by anything other than its tangible, measurable effect on your fellow humans then you are doing it wrong. 

  • Wednesday

    Y’know, when Jesus met the Roman Centurion who asked him to save the
    life of his beloved male teenage sex-slave, Jesus did save the
    teenager’s life, and he praised the centurion’s faith. He did
    not even add “go and sin no more” (as he did in the
    case of the stoning of the adulteress).  He didn’t even say “don’t have
    sex with teenagers and don’t keep slaves”, both of which our modern
    understanding of morality condemns. What he said was “hey, this
    non-Jewish guy who is not keeping the Jewish Law has better faith than
    any Jewish guy I’ve met so far.”

    So, please show me where in the New Testament anyone says that homosexuality itself is wrong and a sin (as opposed to same-sex sex/pagan orgies/prostitution.)

    Because if homosexuality is a sin, then it’s a sin of a very different nature than adultery, idoltry, etc; the rest are sins of actions, but homosexuality would then be a sin of simply being.  You can’t stop being gay by choosing to be celibate*. If you’re gay and decide to be celibate and join the clergy and never do anything else wrong, you are still gay, and according to you according to Christianity, still sinning. Just by existing.

    This is why “love the sinner, hate the sin” is a particular vile thing to say in the context. Even if you claim to love the sinner, you are still saying you hate their existence, that you hate something about them that is beyond their control

    *Something that, it’s worth noting, Paul really encouraged for straights. He allowed marriage to men and women who couldn’t handle celibacy, “because it is better to be married than to be burned”.

    Straights don’t have to define themselves by their sexual orientation because heterosexuality is the norm in our society. It’s like how we don’t need to define ourselves as air-breathers, although we are and that’s fairly fundamental to what we are and to our survival — although people who need oxygen or other assistance breathing frequently are defined by society as a deviation from the norm. They’re defined by “needs to carry oxygen”.

  • Carstonio

    Thanks so much to Fred for responding to my question. Since I don’t belong to any religion, I won’t contest his point that “civil discrimination and religious exclusion violates core principles of biblical Christianity.” I can say instead that it violates core principles of morality in general. Whether or not Paul was advocating “don’t do things with other people without their consent,” that particular moral principle is eminently sound regardless of one’s religious affiliation, and it’s obvious that Fred agrees. Sad that arguments like Jan’s are merely restatements of “because it’s written” or “because X said so,” neither of which is a moral principle. What matters is how one treats other people.

  • Guest

    After the most recent Methodist conference, and its terrible descision on homosexuality, our (Methodist) minister made great use of the irony of the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch popping up in the lectionary the very next week:


    (Eunuchs (and foreigners for that matter) were expressly forbidden from the temple; so one of the first converts was a sexual pariah)

  • Beroli


    SPIEL? SPIEL? How fucking DARE you!

    I’m actually too angry just now come up with something more coherent,
    but to be THAT dismissive of consent… I just… WOW. It’s not like
    consent is something that only applies to sexual morality, either. It’s
    the difference between a loan and theft, a boxing match and assault…

    “Spiel”. Really. Wow.

    Fairly regularly on the Internet, I’ve noticed, someone will describe the right-wing position in a way that makes me think, “That has to be a caricature.” And a right-winger will come along and use a thousand words to say, “Yes, we totally believe that ridiculous horrible thing, only why are you calling it ridiculous and horrible?”

  • Robyrt

    That’s a wonderful thought but not very accurate. Generally, when sexual immorality is brought up in the New Testament, it’s not under the “consent” framework at all. It’s about a lifestyle of debauchery and bacchanalia, contrasted with a lifestyle of self-control, humility and submission. Check out what Peter (well after his vision) has to say on the matter:

    For the time that is past suffices for
    doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions,
    drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you.

    Now, many people have extrapolated from the rather vague list of sexual sins in the New Testament plus our knowledge of the hedonistic, consent-low Roman society to infer that principle. For a document which doesn’t explicitly condemn slavery to endorse our 21st century sexual ethics strikes me as rather too convenient.

  • Kiba

    Hi. I’m gay. I do not define myself solely by my sexual orientation. However, my sexual orientation is a fundamental part of who I am, just as it is with you.  What you fail to understand is that sexual orientation colors our (humanity’s) life. To better explain this I will just quote the American Psychological Association’s pamphlet on sexual orientation:

    Sexual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes. Sexual orientation also refers to a person’s sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors, and membership in a community of others who share those attractions. Research over several decades has demonstrated that sexual orientation ranges along a continuum, from exclusive attraction to the other sex to exclusive attraction to the same sex. However, sexual orientation is usually discussed in terms of three categories: heterosexual (having emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions to members of the other sex), gay/lesbian (having emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions to members of one’s own sex), and bisexual (having emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions to both men and women). This range of behaviors and attractions has been described in various cultures and nations throughout the world. Many cultures use identity labels to describe people who express these attractions. In the United States the most frequent labels are lesbians (women attracted to women), gay men(men attracted to men), and bisexual people (men or women attracted to both sexes). However, some people may use different labels or none at all.Sexual orientation is distinct from other components of sex and gender, including biological sex (the anatomical, physiological, and genetic characteristics associated with being male or female), gender identity (the psychological sense of being male or female),* and social gender role (the cultural norms that define feminine and masculine behavior).Sexual orientation is commonly discussed as if it were solely a characteristic of an individual, like biological sex, gender identity, or age. This perspective is incomplete because sexual orientation is defined in terms of relationships with others. People express their sexual orientation through behaviors with others, including such simple actions as holding hands or kissing. Thus, sexual orientation is closely tied to the intimate personal relationships that meet deeply felt needs for love, attachment, and intimacy. In addition to sexual behaviors, these bonds include nonsexual physical affection between partners, shared goals and values, mutual support, and ongoing commitment. Therefore, sexual orientation is not merely a personal characteristic within an individual. Rather, one’s sexual orientation defines the group of people in which one is likely to find the satisfying and fulfilling romantic relationships that are an essential component of personal identity for many people.

    Emphasis is mine.

    Now, where I do not define myself solely by my sexual orientation there are more than a few people in this world who do and that is not my fault. If you have issues with people being defined solely by their sexual orientation then maybe you can, oh I don’t know, work for a more equal society for everyone and where being a QUILTBAG individual isn’t seen as being “other”.  

    Edit: Sorry Disqus ate the formatting and wont expand the window for me to try and edit it back in.

  • AnonymousSam

    To certain denominations of Christianity certain sexual acts are SINS.

    Fixed that for you. If “Christianity” taught this, then I doubt many of us would be here in this blog.

  • Robyrt

    I think you’re right that the Bible is simply not organized around a “fundamental principle of consent” at all, and it was written in cultures where the entire concept would be suspect or alien. The Ten Commandments example is great – and it extends into the New Testament too, where orgies are a favorite example of forbidden behavior and no attention whatsoever is paid to the level of coercion involved.

    That doesn’t make the Bible a suspect and unreliable source for sexual morality, though, unless you are starting from the assumption that consent is the bedrock principle on which sexual morality must be based.

  • AnonymousSam

    Or the second one. Or the first one, once you strip off the fancy labels of “employer” and “employee.”

  •  Two things.

    First, there’s nothing wrong with treating the Bible as a living document, one that exists today and has previously unexplored meaning that is only visible to us in the light of our current experience of Creation.

    If you want to ignore all that stuff and restrict yourself to whatever subset of the meaning of the Bible was understood a hundred years ago, or five hundred, or a thousand, or whatever your preferred set-point is, that’s your choice. I don’t approve of it but I endorse your right to make it.

    If you want to insist that other people do that too, I oppose you.

    Second, I know lots of people whose marriages, families, loves, failed loves, and aspirations for same are core to who they are and how they live their lives. For my mom, for example, marrying a man and bearing children with him and raising those children remains one of the central ways that she defines her life, even though her children are long since grown adults. It’s core to her identity.

    You are free to consider that unlikely, and you are free to consider it dangerous. You are also free to believe that my mom’s desire to marry a man and have sex with him and bear his children isn’t a sexuality. I disagree vehemently with every single one of those claims, but you’re free to believe them.

    If you want to insist that other people believe them too, I oppose you.

  • Nothing prevents members of Team Atheist or Team Humanist from declaring certain things as just wrong, and indeed many of them do. Not all atheists and humanists are moral consequentialists. The line between good and evil is drawn through every human heart.

  • Carstonio

     For argument’s sake, what other bedrock principle would one use?

  • AnonymousSam

    Various translations of Romans 1:26-27 specify having any kind of feelings for the same sex, rather than simply sex. Not that I feel the Bible has the slightest relevance as a book of moral teaching.

  • Bnerd

    I actually agree in part with you. I’m of the belief that homosexuality definitely falls under the Biblical prohibition against “sexual immorality” (even as a gay man myself). It makes sense given what we know of the Israelite views on nature and sex. However, I might ask, why are we still referring to views on sexuality from 2,000 years ago for guidance NOW? It seems utterly ridiculous to point back in time to a people who knew so little of the actual mechanisms of the world and pretend they had some sort of knowledge that was timeless. We’ve evolved culturally. I have no need to reference first Century Christians for my views on the morality of any sexual act; nor should anyone else.

    As to the last part of your post: Gay man, lesbian women, Trans* persons, etc. absolutely are DEFINED by their orientation or identity. It is however NOT a choice for most of us to have that designation as our primary identity. We live in a heterosexist society that sees anything falling outside of the cis-hetero paradigm as abnormal and worthy of scorn and hate. Our culture is defined by rigid notions of sex and gender that make anyone who doesn’t adhere to the societal norm a target. In short, our identities were thrust upon us. And we can either take those identities and use them in such a way that they break down barriers, which requires us to be out, proud and outspoken, or we can pretend they don’t exist and continue to live in a world that marginalizes us for that very identity we would be trying to downplay. I think you realize which option I chose and why.

  • Ursula L

    That doesn’t make the Bible a suspect and unreliable source for sexual morality, though, unless you are starting from the assumption that consent is the bedrock principle on which sexual morality must be based. 

    Well, I can’t imagine any form of morality that doesn’t start with consent, even if it adds other rules on top of consent (e.g., a legal “age of consent” that is strictly defined, even if a few individuals may be mature enough to give meaningful consent earlier, because the general welfare of everyone in the community is better served by having a clear line to protect people at ages where most are not mature enough to give meaningful consent.)  

    It’s not like consent is an alien concept.  It’s a matter of looking at the rules for preschoolers playing at the playground and continuing them for adults playing in the bedroom.  

    “If the person you’re playing with isn’t having fun, you need to stop.” “If the person you’re playing with wants to stop the game, then you stop.” “If they were having fun, but aren’t having fun anymore, than it is time to stop.” “Play your games so that they are fun for everyone playing.” “If they don’t want to play anymore, then thank them for the nice time you had playing, and let them go away and do what they want to do.” “Just because you start a game, it doesn’t mean you have to play to the end of the game. Stop the game if it stops being fun for everyone.” “Be careful that no one gets hurt while you’re playing.” “If you’re having fun and they’re having fun, then it is good to keep playing, as long as everyone is happy and you make sure that you’re playing safely.”